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Insta360 Link Review: The Best Webcam of 2022 (So Far)

An Alternative to Pricey Camera Setups

Christopher Coke Posted:
Category:
Hardware Reviews 0

Insta360 is best known for its series of action cameras, but it’s out to change the webcam game in a big way. We’ve had the Link webcam in for testing for the last few weeks and can safely say that this is the best webcam money can buy. It offers the best picture quality, best tracking, and a suite of features that make it an excellent choice for content creators and anyone working or learning from home. At $299, it doesn’t come cheap, but can actually save you money if you were considering a costly mirrorless camera setup.  Insta360 has knocked it out of the park. This is a webcam you don’t want to miss.

Specifications

  • Current Price: $299 (Amazon
  • Video Resolution: [email protected]/25/30fps, [email protected]/25/30/50/60fps, [email protected]/25/30/50/60fps
  • Video Coding Format: H.264 (all resolutions and frame rates), MJPEG ([email protected]/25fps, 1080p all frame rates, 720p all frame rates)
  • ISO: 100-3200
  • Exposure Compensation: ±3 EV
  • Shutter Speed: 1/8000-1/30s
  • White Balance: 2000-10000K
  • Aperture: F1.8
  • 35mm Equivalent Focal Length: 26mm
  • Fixed FOV: DFOV 79.5°, HFOV 67°
  • Digital Zoom: Up to 4×
  • Autofocus: Supported at a distance of 10cm (4in) to ∞
  • Audio: Dual noise-canceling microphones
  • AI Tracking: Supports with and without AI zoom
  • UAC: 1.0
  • UVC: 1.1
  • Power Consumption: 5V/1A
  • Button: 1x Touch Key
  • Dimensions: 69×41×45mm (2.71×1.61×1.77in)
  • Connectivity: Via USB-C to USB-C cable (USB 2.0) or Type-C to Type-A adapter
  • Operating Temperature: 0°C to 40°C (32°F to 104°F)
  • Weight: 106g (3.73oz)
  • Modes: Portrait, Whiteboard, DeskView, Overhead
  • Mounting Options: 1/4" mounting point for tripod mounting and a built-in clip for computer screen mounting
  • HDR: Supported for [email protected]/25/30fps and [email protected]/25/30fps
  • Battery: None
  • System Requirements: Operating System: Windows 8 or later (Windows 8.1 or higher required for 4K); macOS 10.10 or later. RAM: 2GB RAM or more for 1080p or higher; 1GB for 720p.

Insta360 Link  - What Is It?

The Insta360 Link is a premium webcam unlike any you’ve seen before. Its small camera module is mounted to a 3-axis gimbal to smoothly and accurately track you as you move. At its highest resolution, it’s capable of recording up to 4K video at 30 FPS or 1080p60 if you prefer a faster frame rate. It features AI technology to recognize hand gestures to track, zoom, or focus on a white board. Most importantly, it offers the best picture quality of any webcam we’ve ever seen, coming close to full mirrorless cameras. 

Of course, it doesn’t end there. But the important thing to know is that this camera one-ups the competition in meaningful ways in virtually every way that counts. It features a bigger sensor for higher image quality and better low light performance, dual noise cancelling microphones that actually work to block out surrounding noise, and alternative modes — deskview and overhead — that are actually useful for content creators and remote workers alike. 

Let’s start with the most novel part of the Link: the gimbal. If you’re familiar with camera technology, gimbals are stabilization tools that remove shake when you’re holding a camera. They can pan, tilt, and rotate to keep your image stable, even if you’re running behind a subject while filming. The Link takes that concept and applies it to webcams.

Even though the Link doesn’t need stabilization, those same axis of movement allow the webcam to frame you in the center of the shot without needing to digitally zoom in and wreck image quality. Every other webcam needs to be manually positioned or perform a digital crop to keep you centered (like the Jabra Panacast 20) but the Link can simply follow you. 

Or, if you’d rather keep the angle locked, you can adjust the position of the gimbal to perfectly frame you. With normal webcams, it’s always a mix of positioning the camera as good as possible and then enlarging and moving the frame to get the best picture. Here, you tap a simple directional pad and the gimbal makes those fine adjustments for you without any image degradation. You can save multiple preset angles and switch between them on the fly with near-instant transitions. 

Being mounted on a gimbal has also allow Insta360 to include DeskView and Overhead modes. With a single click, the camera can snap down to zoom in on your desk or to turn at a 90-degree angle for a full overhead view (this requires a tripod of some kind to achieve the proper angle). DeskView Mode also flips and adjusts the image so everything looks flat and natural on-camera. 

Insta360’s experience in the action camera world also pays dividends in the software capabilities of the camera. Tracking is excellent and will quickly and reliably follow you as you walk around the room. You can also enable an AI zoom mode where you can select whether you want the camera to frame your head, upper body, or full body within the shot. The speed of its tracking can also be adjusted so it can keep pace with whatever you’re doing. For streaming, this is less useful, but is an excellent feature if you’re working from home and need to present to your team. 

Overhead, on the other hand, seems custom made for streaming. If you’re reviewing products, showing off a technique with your mouse and keyboard, or just demonstrating something that’s difficult to do held out in front of you, this mode comes in clutch. You can purchase the Link in a Tripod Kit from Insta360 for another $25 or use a tripod you already have with the built-in ¼-20 mount.

The Link also allows you to use AI gestures for quick control, even when you’re not at your PC. Raising your palm enables tracking, while raising it again turns it off. Making an L sign with your thumb and index finger tells the camera you want to zoom. You can move your hand up or down to zoom in and out. Making a V with your fingers puts the camera into Whiteboard mode where it will look for a set of corner markers to identify your board and then zoom in to focus on what you’re presenting. 

As a school teacher throughout COVID remote teaching, I would have killed for features like this to enhance my lessons. If you’re working or teaching from home, or even just like to stream sitting back from your PC, these are excellent, useful, and reliable features that didn’t hiccup even once in my testing. 

While I touched on this previously, it’s worth circling back to the camera tech that drives the Link. All cameras use sensors to gather light and capture their images. Most webcam sensors are tiny compared to full-size cameras, which is why their clarity and low light performance suffers. This is why you see so many streamers turning to mirrorless cameras and CamLinks to capture video with. That has been my personal solution for the last two years, but it’s an expensive one 

The Link is much closer to an action camera in this regard and uses a full ½-inch sensor. This allows it to gather more light and present more detail in the final image. Insta also gives you mirrorless-like control over the exposure, with dedicated controls for ISO and Shutter Speed, as well as Color Temperature from 2000 - 10000K. There are also sliders to adjust Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness and Saturation. Compared to most webcams, the level of control here is above and beyond what you would expect, and is much closer to a full-size camera (though you don’t have hue and tint controls to really adjust white balance completely). It’s wonderful to see and gives you a great deal of control over your final image and video quality.

In terms of specs and framerates, the Link is able to capture up to 4K30, 1080p60, or 720p60 with 24 FPS supported across all three resolutions. HDR is also supported at 1080p30 or below. The camera also supports portrait recording in apps that support it, so vertical video is an option for Instagram and other platforms. 

Insta360 Link - Performance

Now that you have a solid understanding of what the Insta360 Link is and what sets it apart, let’s get into how it performs, starting with a basic image quality test.

Right away, the amount of detail the Insta360 Link is able to deliver is outstanding. Are we looking at a webcam here? Are you sure? I’ve tested most of the best webcams on the market today and the detail, exposure, and overall image the Link provides beats all of them — and not by a little. It comes close to mirrorless camera territory. The image quality is absolutely stellar.

Now let’s compare modes and resolutions.

Starting with 1080p versus 4K in standard definition, the 4K image delivers improved fine detail. This is especially visible when you look closely at facial hair where the 1080p has a slightly softer image. Both resolutions look very good, however.

In these tests, I began to notice that the Link tends to opt for a slightly lower exposure (darker image) as it bases exposure on the face. You can lighten the image within the software if you prefer it to be a bit brighter without degrading the picture.

In this image, HDR has been enabled on the picture on the left. The image is brighter and a bit more flat, but you can definitely make out more detail in my shirt. I noticed a bit more noise in the background with HDR enabled but it’s not very noticeable in video, so is a small change overall.

Since 4K doesn’t support HDR formatting, I wanted to compare the “best of 1080p” with the 4K mode. While 1080p HDR is both flatter and brighter, I think the 4K SDR image is very impressive. There is more detail and it looks more natural to me. The lack of HDR at 4K is disappointing, but it’s hard to argue with the picture 4K delivers even in SDR mode. 

With self-comparisons done, let’s get into the real meat of what you want to see: comparisons with other major webcams. In the pictures below, I compared the Insta360 Link to its biggest competitors in the content creation space, the Razer Kiyo Pro and the Logitech Streamcam. 

Let’s start with light performance. 

Bright Light

Wth bright lighting, all three cameras are poised to perform their best. It’s no contest. While the Kiyo Pro still delivers a clear picture, it’s noticeably more soft than the Link. The Logitech StreamCam is the softest, though is closer to my actual skin tone than the Kiyo Pro. The Link is far and away the best looking, most detailed, and most accurate of the three. 

Medium Light

For the medium light test, I turned on the floor lamp in the corner behind my monitor. My monitor is 48 inches and quite bright all on its own, so it acts as a supporting light source, even when I wish it wouldn’t. The Link again delivers the best, most accurate picture. Both the Kiyo Pro and StreamCam start to struggle. The StreamCam in particular has a hard time, essentially turning my shirt black.

Low Light

For the low light test, all the lights were turned off in my room except for the monitor. The Kiyo Pro and StreamCam are unusable in this kind of lighting. The Kiyo’s STARVIS sensor is working hard to maintain some clarity and color, but it’s no competition. The Link’s larger sensor allows it to gather more light and still be very usable, even in this challenging scenario.

Despite that increased performance, the Link also manages to be the smallest of the three. It doesn’t look bulky on a full-size monitor and will be a great fit for laptops too.

Finally, here’s how the Link compares to a full-size mirrorless camera (Sony A6500 with a Sigma 16mm f/1.4 lens):

Unsurprisingly, the A6500 has an edge. It uses a larger APS-C sized sensor and has a very nice lens attached to it. What it worth noting here is that, while yes, the A6500 is better, the Link is much closer than any other webcam I’ve tested here or is available elsewhere on the market today. It has better image quality than the Dell Ultrasharp, the Jabra Panacast 20, the Elgato Facecam, the Logitech Brio… all of them.

With that in mind, it’s also very expensive. At $299, it’s going to be out of reach for many users. Maybe for the price, the reduced image quality of the Kiyo or Streamcam are acceptable, and that’s fine. 

But there’s another perspective here: compared to setting up your own mirrorless camera solution, the Insta360 Link is almost certainly going to be much cheaper. To recreate my own solution with the A6500 would cost nearly $900 (Camera: $415, Lens: $368, CamLink 4K: $115). Are the results in the image above $600 better? I don’t think so. In fact, without a side by side comparison, I think you could convince an audience that you were using a mirrorless camera and nobody would bat an eyelash. Add in the gimbal and AI features and you have a truly excellent, class leading solution.

It really is that good, but it’s not perfect. HDR at 4K would be great, and I hope that Insta360 will give us this ability to white balance using a gray card. That would really bring the Link up to par with features and image options. But, what’s here is truly exceptional.

Final Thoughts

The Insta360 Link is the best webcam of 2022 and maybe even of all time. At $299, it’s not going to make sense for everyone, but if you’re looking for a boost in image quality, I would definitely recommend saving up and choosing this over the competition. This is a webcam that can grow with you and deliver mirrorless-like quality without the mirrorless price. Insta360 is changing the game and proving that you don’t need a fancy camera setup to have outstanding, professional image quality.

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes. Some articles may contain affiliate links and purchases made through this will result in a small commission for the site. Commissions are not directed to the author or related to compensation in any way.

9.5Amazing
Pros
  • Top-tier, industry-leading image quality
  • Excellent customization options
  • Reliable, intelligent tracking and AI Zoom
  • Built-in DeskView and Overhead View modes can replace additional cameras
  • Effective and affordable solution to mirrorless camera setups
Cons
  • No HDR at 4K
  • White balance options are limited to color temperature


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight